Just a year after New Orleans legalized short-term vacation rentals such as those that use Airbnb in many parts of the city, the incoming city council is considering a temporary freeze on such rentals, the Times-Picayune reports.
A zoning change that would “push pause” on rentals, the freeze would be a dramatic reversal of current regulations, according to the Times-Picayune. The proposal, introduced by councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, would stop the city from issuing permits to short-term rentals in historic core areas where the owners don’t live on the property. Rentals with current permits would be allowed to continue operating until their licenses expire, but no new permits would be issued for at least a year. The ban could come to a vote as soon as Thursday, the New Orleans Advocate said.
In April 2017, New Orleans began issuing permits for legal short-term rentals. An accessory permit, which costs $200, allows a permitholder to rent out rooms inside a home in which she lives, for as many days of the year that she wants. A temporary permit, which costs $150, allows a person to rent out an entire home for up to 90 days per year. The 90-day cap was supposed to incentivize local property owners to rent out their spare rooms while disincentivizing real-estate investors from buying up housing stock and turning the units into full-time short-term rentals.
Critics said that the 90-day cap was too generous; an investor could still rent out a New Orleans home nearly every weekend a year. Plus, as Next City reported last year, one operator could list a unit on Airbnb for 90 nights a year and on a competitor like VRBO for another 90 nights. Next City reported that at the time, the city was aware of the loophole and was “hoping to outsource some of the technical work to companies that have figured out how to catch bad actors.”
To hear Palmer and her new council colleagues say it, the city has not managed to do so. Palmer, who rejoined the council this month after a four-year absence, ran on a platform partially dedicated to curbing short-term rentals.
“We (new council members) all ran on this (in our campaigns) because we saw how short-term rentals were affecting our neighborhoods. Not all of them, but some,” Palmer told the Advocate. (The Times-Picayune says that three of the five new council members made short-term rentals a campaign issue.) Five council members in all are listed as sponsors of the measure, the Advocate wrote.
Neighborhood groups, the newspapers reported, have found a lot to complain about since Airbnb’s legalization. Short-term rental homes have pushed out longtime residents, they say, and former mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration had difficulty enforcing the city’s rules including the rental cap.
Palmer has also introduced another measure that, if approved, would require the City Planning Commission to add to a study it is conducting on short-term rentals. It would extend by another four months the deadline for the commission to make final recommendations; the study was scheduled to be completed later this summer.
In a statement, Airbnb spokesperson Molly Weedn said that the company “would hope the city would wait to consider any changes to the rules—which the council spent more than two years developing and which have been in place for just over a year—until a study looking at short-term rentals is expected to come out in early July.”
Rachel Kaufman is a journalist covering transportation, sustainability, science and tech. Her writing has appeared in Inc., National Geographic News, Scientific American and more.